The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks that one of Trump’s top pandemic advisers has no idea what he’s talking about.
Reports have indicated for months that the CDC chief, Dr. Robert Redfield, is on thin ice with the Trump administration for contradicting the White House’s brainwashed spin on the pandemic. Redfield is also not very happy about Dr. Scott Atlas, a Hoover Institute fellow with no public health expertise that the White House brought on in August to advocate a “herd immunity” approach—which is just as bad an idea as it sounds.
An NBC News reporter overheard Redfield talking on the phone with a colleague on Friday, apparently making the assertion that whenever Atlas opens his mouth, bullshit falls out:
“Everything he says is false,” Redfield said during a phone call made in public on a commercial airline and overheard by NBC News.
Redfield acknowledged after the flight from Atlanta to Washington that he was speaking about Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases or public health… There is a concern among Redfield and others that Atlas continually briefs the president and misrepresents what other health experts have said in sworn testimony, according to a member of the [White House coronavirus] task force.
Atlas was formerly the chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center, but this month dozens of the school’s faculty signed an open letter denouncing him for spreading “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” That includes calls for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity: a state in which so many people have already been infected by a pathogen that it can’t readily find new hosts.
Atlas has publicly denied that he supports “a strategy of herd immunity, of opening the doors and letting people get infected,” but he’s made similar arguments to that effect on numerous occasions and has “privately embraced” the strategy away from the press, a task force member told NBC . The Washington Post reported that Atlas has also mirrored the president’s skepticism on whether masks, social distancing, and restrictions on businesses are effective, instead advocating for a swift return to normality. He has hinted he believes in the conspiracy theory federal scientists are withholding data that would show the pandemic is exaggerated.
“When you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you’re prolonging the problem because you’re preventing population immunity,” Atlas told Fox News in July. “Low-risk groups getting the infection is not a problem.” In April, he told conservative talk show host Steve Deace, “We should be fine with letting [those at low risk or not experiencing severe illness] get infected, generating immunity on their own, and the more immunity in the community, the better we can eradicate the threat of the virus.”
The World Health Organization’s Dr. Soumya Swaminathan estimated in late August that achieving herd immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus would require 60 to 70 percent of the population catch it.
According to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine tracker, at least 7.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, or about 2.16 percent of the current population as estimated by the U.S. Census. The tracker lists about 205,000 confirmed deaths. The true tally may be much higher, though a recent study in the Lancet estimated that less than 10 percent of the U.S. population “have evidence of exposure or immune response.”
NBC News reported that Atlas directly contradicted a recent statement by Redfield that 90 percent of the population remains at risk from the coronavirus. Even in the rosiest scenario where herd immunity is achieved at around 20 percent, Atlas’s reported plans would require several times the number of people who have already gotten sick—already the biggest crisis for the U.S. in decades—to get sick, and faster.
In a statement to NBC News on Redfield’s overheard remark, Atlas wrote, “Everything I have said is directly from the data and the science. It echoes what is said by many of the top medical scientists in the world, including those at Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford.” A White House official told the network that Atlas advocates policies to “save lives and safely reopen the country,” but did so anonymously.
The CDC told CNN in a statement that “context” was missing from the one side of Redfield’s conversation overheard, adding: “the value of wearing a mask, youth COVID-19 infections, and where we are currently with herd immunity, are the positions that Dr. Redfield has different positions on than Dr. Atlas.”
Atlas was specifically brought on at Trump’s request to provide alternative counsel to Fauci and White House Coronavirus Task Force chief Dr. Deborah Birx, according to the Post. Fauci said on Monday that the U.S. needs to “double down” on social distancing and lockdown measures, while CNN reported last week Birx has been so wary of the White House and Atlas’s efforts to drop pandemic control measures that she has considered tendering her resignation. Birx is now on the road gathering ground-level reports on the virus, providing an opportunity for Atlas to win more influence. Fauci told CNN the task force is meeting less often.